CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (30)

The Islander Express is headed back toward Long Beach now and you can feel its gathering speed as it plunges across the surface of the Pacific. Catalina Island is receding behind you, crawling back over the horizon, secreting itself behind the wide blue curvature of the earth and with itself your friends, Eric and Lavinia, their ‘authentic’ lodge, their scattershot honeymoon, their tropical drinks in a subtropical climate, their tourists’ sunglasses and dark new swimsuits dried and salty in the sun. At this point they have given up on you, you’re positive. You crouch here in the Islander Express ’s passenger cabin on the lower deck, your head bouncing above the body of Mrs. Shorter. She is dead. Someone is responsible.

Gavin is crouched across from you and his eyes are wide behind the lenses of his eyeglasses and you notice for the first time that he does not look well and you worry about him in the presence of Mrs. Shorter’s body. ‘Gavin,’ you say, ‘take a break.’

His face cracks into a forced grin and he sits back on his haunches and leans two elbows on the blue upholstered cushions of the airplane-style row of seating immediately behind him. ‘You look like you need a vacation,’ he says to you. ‘You consider an island getaway?’

You look back down at Mrs. Shorter’s blank open eyes and you pull the beach towel back over her. You stand up. Behind Gavin in the rows of seating you see almost everyone you’ve met in the last handful of hours—Rick Chavez, the Earth sciences teacher, who is looking at you placidly from his seat near the back of the cabin (you realize you haven’t seen him move from that place this entire time); the woman with her young son is sitting again where you met her earlier, the boy crawling onto her shoulder and trying to see out the window from there; Drew, the high school boy, is standing in one back corner and staring out through the tinted glass at the ocean passing by and he has one hand raised like a visor above his eyes; you cannot see Pauline anywhere; after a moment you identify Royce, who is sitting about halfway down the center aisle and turned all the way around in his seat and is looking back at Drew by the window; Ernesto, the crewman with the clipboard, is behind you and to one side, not paying attention to anything.

You head out to the bow and squint against the sunlight and walk unhesitant to where Esme Shorter is standing at the vertex of the prow. Her back is to you. The cool wind coming across the waves makes a dull whistle in your ears. ‘Esme,’ you say, to get her attention.

She turns around and sees you and looks past you to the dark windows of the passenger cabin. You glance back and the sun glaring off of the glass makes it impossible to see inside.

‘We’re going back,’ you say to her. Long Beach is already larger behind her.

‘Yeah?’ she says flatly.

You look at her face. ‘The closest thing we have to an authority figure out here is the captain,’ you say. ‘And I don’t think she cares about the truth. About your mother.’

‘The truth,’ Esme says.

‘I need your help,’ you say, ‘and I’m no good at keeping track of everything. Where was Royce when your mother went over?’

She stiffens slightly. ‘He was with me,’ she says. ‘We were together.’

‘Where was that?’

‘Inside.’ She points. ‘Just sitting and reading or whatever.’

You try to picture Royce reading. ‘And he didn’t get up at any point? To go to the bathroom or anything?’

‘What the fuck is that supposed to mean?’ she says. ‘No, I told you. The whole time.’

‘Okay,’ you say, ‘okay. I told you I’m not very good at this. I’m just trying.’ Abstract white shapes between the boat and Long Beach are resolving themselves into tiny and far-away sailboats. A flurry of half-conceived images race across your mind: the same murder perpetrated first by Rick Chavez, then Joan the captain, Royce, Gavin, Drew, Pauline, and then combinatorial permutations. You do not think that Bob is the murderer, finally, but his presence here is an uneasy coincidence otherwise.

You look at Esme again. ‘Do you know anyone else on this boat?’ you say. ‘Besides your father, besides Royce and your mother? Could anyone vouch for you?’

She looks at you and sighs and holds her two wrists out and together. ‘Jesus, just lock me up,’ she says. ‘If you seriously think I killed my own mother for no goddam reason then I don’t know what to tell you.’ Tears are brimming in her eyes. ‘I mean, fuck.’

You look down at her wrists. You can’t think of anything to say. The sun passes behind a cloud.

‘Oh Jesus,’ she says.

You look up at her face again and she is looking past you. You turn around expecting to see Royce approaching, or Gavin, or anyone, but instead you see dimly through the smoky glass of the fore window of the interior passenger cabin the unmistakable image of two people circling one another in the middle of a fist fight.

Esme moves past you and swings open the door into the passenger cabin and the sun comes out again and all you can see is dark glass and shining white boat. You look up at the windows of the deck above and wonder if Joan is looking down at you from the bridge.

For some reason you think about Esme’s wrists again.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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